When it comes to the ancient beliefs and rituals of our earliest ancestors, nothing can be more captivating than standing stones and similar megalithi
When it comes to the ancient beliefs and rituals of our earliest ancestors, nothing can be more captivating than standing stones and similar megalithic structures. Dating far back in time to the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Bronze Age, standing stones continue to mystify scholars and researchers, and will simply leave any onlooker awestruck and inspired.
All megalithic structures of the past were considerable feats to accomplish for the peoples of that era and were reserved for highly important individuals, fertility rites, and/or as complex astronomical observatories . Today we are taking a deeper look into some of the best lone standing stones all around the world. Solitary and picturesque, these stones are a fantastic inspiration for anyone who might chance upon them. If you ever happen to observe one of these mute witnesses of the bygone centuries, you will surely draw from that deep well of inspiration and reconnect with the most distant past that is etched in your very DNA.
The Deep Meaning of Lone Standing Stones
Standing stones have several different official names. They are most widely known as menhirs, a term that originates in the Welsh name Maen Hîr , meaning “long stone”. And wherever they might be, these menhirs often withstood the test of time, standing tall and proud for several millennia – untouched, unblemished, and undisturbed.
But their origins became gradually shrouded in the mists of memory. Their builders long gone, their name, language, and history all forgotten for eternity – known only by the mute stone. Their original purpose is also forgotten.
Many of them were erected above the graves of important people – presumably chieftains or legendary warriors. Some of them were erected in specially chosen spots – where they would be used in complex rituals to commemorate the changing of the seasons. These stones would perfectly connect with the midwinter sun, for example, and cast long shadows with ritual purposes.
We often underestimate our distant ancestors and the peoples of the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, thinking they were in a way primitive and heathenish in their practices. But what the archaeological evidence all around us shows is the fact that they were far more than that – blooming tribes that had a sophisticated and complex view of the natural world and all that unfolded around them. Ancient megalith builders were finely attuned to the nature around them and knew intricate ways of the changing seasons and the celestial bodies. Their ritual cults of fertility, war, and sun were all facets of the nature in which they lived – in perfect symbiosis with the world.
And once you get a chance to visit these lone standing stones, to glance upon the smooth surface of a tall menhir, and to touch the weathered, millennia old rock, you too will understand the ways of these long gone peoples, and deep inside you travel centuries back in time – when life was simpler and an old knowledge lived. Knowledge that is lost to us today.
This lone standing stone is one of the iconic ancient sites in Ireland. It stands about 2 miles (3.5 kilometers) south of Naas in County Kildare, and is located in a picturesque field near the Punchestown racecourse – a well-known location which is the home to the annual Kildare and National Hunt Races.
The Punchestown Longstone is Ireland’s tallest menhir. It stands 27 feet high (7 meters), and is a smooth, tapered, and very elegant menhir. It is made from local granite, and weighs around 9 tons, with an almost square base below the earth, which measures 11 feet (3.3 meters) in circumference. This base turns into a wedge shape and becomes the menhir above the earth.
Punchestown longstone. (Lucytakesphotos/ CC BY SA 4.0 )
Interestingly, archaeological excavations at the base of the menhir revealed a stone cist – an ancient burial spot – which contained a cremation burial and the remains of pottery and a Bronze Age wrist guard which is typical for the Unetice and Beaker cultures of Europe.
This all suggests that the Punchestown Longstone was erected between 2450 and 1900 BC. Another cist with four cremation burials was discovered some 800 yards from the menhir. One of the interesting pieces of information related to this menhir is found in Topographia Hibernatica, an account of Ireland written in 1188 by Gerald of Wales. In it, he mentions that Ireland was full of similar standing stones, and mentions in particular a stone “ on the plains of Kildare, near Naas” (Punchestown Longstone).
He states that these stones were set up by giants – “partly by strength, and partly by artificial contrivances”. The menhir was originally tilted, and fell over in 1931. It was raised again three years later and it stands tall and proud today.
Lanvénael / Lanvenaël Standing Stone
Brittany in France is by far one of the best known locations for observing menhirs. This ancient, culturally unique region has a long Celtic heritage and sites that are even older than that. But what is special about these stones is their beauty and age.
One great example is the Lanvenaël standing stone, one of the prettiest megalithic locations in the world. A solitary, lone standing stone is located in a field close to the villages of Lanvénael and Beuzec and Plomeur. This menhir measures 15.4 feet (4.7 meters) in height and has an uneven, ovoid shape with a smaller stone planted at its base.
The Lanvénael stone is simply breathtaking when observed in the summer months. It is situated in a quiet, picturesque field of colorful anemones – flowers of a hundred colors cover the fields and make this scene almost unreal. A thin layer of moss covers one side and is a telltale sign of the passing time.
Lanvenaël standing stone. (Lemra ou pas/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
At the foot of the menhir archaeologists discovered remains of an ancient burial. Pieces of an axe, pottery fragments, and horse bones were found buried and are dated to the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. It is supposed that the menhir predates the burial, making it one of the older examples in Brittany. It is an iconic site that breathes with an atmosphere of a bygone, enigmatic era.
Menhir of Grandson
The majority of standing stones are concentrated in North and West Europe and on the British Isles . But as you move eastwards, there are still remnants of Europe’s oldest history to be seen in lonesome fields and faraway places. One such location is found in Switzerland. The so-called Menhir of Grandson is located in the eponymous Swiss commune of Grandson, in the canton of Vaud and close to the famous Lake Neuchatel.
The Menhir of Grandson and the nearby finds are from the Neolithic era, dated to a period between 3000 and 2000 BC, making them one of the oldest in Europe. This standing stone is located in a quiet field near the road to the village of Flez. It is about 13 feet (4 meters) tall.
Menhir of Grandson. (Roland Zumbühl/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
The Menhir of Grandson is also one of the prettiest megalithic sites in Europe. It stands in a lovely field of sunflowers, and from it there are grand views of Lake Neuchatel on the horizon and faraway mountains in the haze. The menhir was discovered in 1895 when the road was constructed, and the stone was covered by a thick layer of soil. Along with some other megalithic sites nearby, the Menhir of Grandson is a fantastic part of the regional Neolithic past.
At a place not far away, called “Les Pierres Plates”, one can see the “Corcelles-près-Concise”, a group of four standing stones arranged in a rectangle. Furthermore, near the wine village of Bonvillars, a lone standing stone stands at 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) in height, commanding the region and completing the ancient identity of this part of Europe.
For the heritage of the Basque peoples, the Arlobi menhir holds special significance. It is located in Spain’s Basque country, in the Gorbea Natural Park near the town of Zuia, in the province of Álava. It was discovered in 2004 – making it one of the most recently discovered standing stones. Up to that point, menhirs in the Basque country and Álava province were a rarity, and dolmens were the dominant megalithic structures.
The Arlobi menhir was discovered broken into three separate pieces. After observation and excavation, it was clear that the pieces fit together perfectly to form a standing stone. Archaeologists found the exact location where it stood – in fact, a base fragment of the menhir was still planted in the ground.
This standing stone is made from local sandstone, measuring around 16.4 feet (5 meters) long and weighing 4.3 tons. It is believed that the stone was mostly formed naturally as a glacial remnant dated to the Albian Age. The ancient Europeans that chose it for the menhir apparently used the slope to roll it into its place.
Menhir of Arlobi at sunset, Gorbea Natural Park, Alava, Spain . ( Noradoa /Adobe Stock)
Due to its natural formation, the stone is unlike the other menhirs of Spain – it has an uneven, square shape with jutting fragments. During the archaeological excavations at the sites, traces of humans were discovered – sharpening tools and stone hammers were found, and it is believed they were used in the raising process of this solitary standing stone.
Once the Arlobi menhir was pieced back together, it was once more erected in its original spot. For this purpose, 23148.5 lbs. (10,500 kg) of dry concrete were poured in the base to hold it securely in place. Nowadays, this lone standing stone dominates these beautiful natural landscapes, surrounded by the hills, plains, and forests. It is an immemorial heritage of the Basque Country .
One of Germany’s unique and rare menhirs, the so-called Wotanstein is captivating. This somewhat one-of-a-kind standing stone is located in the state of Hesse, close to the village of Maden in Schwalm-Eder-Kreis. With a roughly linear, rectangular shape, Wotanstein is somewhat more “artificial looking” than the other menhirs in the region.
The menhir is located on the southwestern corner of the village of Maden and is perched on a hill with an elevation of 581 feet (177 meters), situated on a picturesque location between the streams of the Goldbach and the Henkelborn.
The Wotanstein, a megalith near Maden, Hesse. (Tecty/ CC BY SA 4.0 )
The menhir itself is not one of the tallest around – it is 6 feet 11 inches tall (2.12 meters). It is interestingly made from quartzite stone and weighs only 3.7 tons above ground because of it. Excavations proved that it is equal in size below ground too – so the complete weight is about 7.5 tons. To compare this weight, we can take the Riesenstein Menhir – also in the state of Hesse – which weighs 10 times more than that!
It is also one of the youngest menhirs in Europe and is believed to have been raised in the 3rd century BC. But it can easily be much older than that. During excavations at its base during the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763) human remains were discovered.
As with most ancient standing stones, many legends are connected to the Wotanstein. As Christianity gradually took over, old beliefs became tales, legends, and myths. So it became told that Wotanstein was thrown by the “Devil”, who tossed the stone at a church, but it got caught by his sleeve and fell short of its mark. But the true purpose of this stone is certainly much, much older, and more complex.
Against the Tides of Time
Whether desired or not, our ancient history survives. Through wars and calamities, decades and centuries, these megalithic structures – the remnants of the oldest periods of our history, have stood undaunted and proud. Their original role has been lost to time, as new generations took them for granted and Christianity proclaimed them the work of the Devil .
But history is not so easy to replace. Time and again, knowledge and research give us the answers we need. And these answers are in these lone standing stones. They are mute witnesses to the passing time, unfazed soldiers of a bygone era.
Warriors of stone and old shepherds of ancient myths and legends – they still live. Their secrets are etched deep into the fiber of the immemorial rock. And it is up to us to decipher them.
Top Image: The Holestone, a lone Bronze age standing stone that sits atop a small rocky outcrop outside Doagh, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Source: stevie /Adobe Stock
Midgley, M. 2008. The Megaliths of Northern Europe. Routledge.
Varner, G. 2004. Menhirs, Dolmens, and Circles of Stone: The Folklore and Magic of Sacred Stone. Algora Publishing.
Thom, A. and Thom A. 1978. Megalithic Remains in Britain and Brittany. Clarendon Press.